A Gift-Giving Guide for the Human Workplace

'Tis the season to think about holiday gifts, and I know there are managers out there wondering what to give their staff. Many of us still assume that, "cash is king," but my research on the younger generation in the workforce suggests otherwise. Instead, a personal gift that says "I know you" may give employees that feeling of connection they crave. And a personal gift can go a long way toward developing a more cohesive, and loyal group of people.

In fact, as noted by McKinsey & Company, there are a number of studies that suggest non-financial rewards have a greater and longer-lasting effect on employee engagement. And cash rewards actually have the lowest impact and do little or nothing to improve employee satisfaction and performance.

Here are some ideas of gifts that say I see you. You are more than just a cog in the wheel.

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A Gift of Time

Everyone needs a break. Consider giving employees a personal day to do whatever they want. Centro, a media company in Chicago, gives employees "Ferris Bueller" days--days that employees can take off just because they don't feel like going to work. At REI, the holidays came early again this year for employees who got to be with family and friends on Black Friday. Full Contact, a Denver based technology company, gives both time and money. They pay their employees $7,500 to take time off. The only catch: no technology. They understand that the gift of time off allows people to come back refreshed, renewed and ready to work even harder.

Even little things can go a long way. Give your employees Dec 31st off or even a half day to let them get ahead of the traffic. Or let them work remotely during busy travel days to lower their stress and have more family time. My personal favorite (and those of many employees) is what Food 52 does for its employees: they close the office altogether between Christmas and New Years. When the office is closed, people are much more likely to truly disconnect and recharge.

A Gift of Experience

Classic gifts are treating your employee and his or her significant other to a great dinner, tickets to a show you know they'd appreciate or their favorite sporting event. Some companies offer yoga, meditation or even a massage therapist. But don't forget, this generation loves learning new skills. Consider offering your employee a class--either work-related or something they do outside of work like photography, if he or she is into that sort of thing.

And if you can swing it, send your employees on a trip--a weekend away for mom and dad, or a family trip with the kids--is always a big hit. This encourages the employee to take time off and the "feel good" sensation of the gift lasts well beyond the holidays.

A Gift of Purpose

This generation wants purpose. So why not give them opportunities to give back--on company time and with company dollars. Consider giving employees a gift from TisBest where they can choose to make a gift to one of the hundreds of charities on the site or from Donors Choose which lists public school teachers who need supplies for their classrooms. Retrofit gives its employees "Good Egg Days" to give back to their community. Employees get a chance to be part of something bigger, give back and connect with their friends and colleagues as well. And studies show that volunteerism increases happiness. A win win!

And if you want to give your employees something tangible, buy it from a company who values giving back, through either a percentage of their proceeds, like Harry's razors, or the BOGO (buy one give one) approach ala Warby Parker, and Toms. It is a way to increase the impact of your gift and send the message that giving back matters and buying from companies that share those values matters. Patagonia just announced that it is donating 100% of its Black Friday sales ($10 million) to grassroots environmental groups.

Saying "thank you," is always great, but this holiday season, try saying "I know you." Choose a gift that honors your relationships at work. You will be glad you did.